"In this book, I try to connect our progress towards discovering the physical basis of reality with our own character as human beings...
My goal is to celebrate our ability to understand the universe, to recognize it as something that can draw us together, and to contemplate what it might mean for our future."
The above comes from this interesting book by Neil Turok. Turok, born in South Africa, is one of the world's leading theoretical physicists. He is now Director of the Perimeter Institute of Theoretical Physics located in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. (Located at the Perimeter Institute are the Distinguished Research Chair of respected theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking and the Stephen Hawking Centre.)
This book is actually the transcript of a lecture entitled "The Universe Within: From Quantum to Cosmos." broadcast in November 2012 as part of the Canadian Broadcast Corporation Radio's "Ideas" series. The lecture itself is actually a "Massey Lecture," named after former Canadian Governor General, Vincent Massey. These Massey Lectures provide a forum on radio where major contemporary thinkers can address important issues of our time.
In this book, Turok explores those major scientific discoveries of the past three centuries--from classical mechanics, to the nature of light, to the strange world of the quantum, and the evolution of the cosmos. He notes that each new discovery has gradually over time resulted in new technologies that have deeply influenced society.
He continues to argue that we are about to enter the "quantum revolution" that will replace our current digital age. (For example, we will eventually have "quantum computers.") In order to face this new future world of the quantum, Turok calls for reinventing the way advanced knowledge is both developed and shared as well as utilizing the untapped intellectual talent in places such as Africa.
I especially enjoyed the second half of this book's penultimate chapter where he explains the terms of a formula that summarizes all the known laws of physics. Why is this formula important? Turok tells us:
"The formula tells us that the world [and the universe] operates according to simple, powerful principles that we [humans] can understand. And in this, it tells us who we are: creators of explanatory knowledge. It is this ability that has brought us to where we are and will determine our future."
In the last chapter, Turok discusses "the future of this world of ours."
Near the book's center are fourteen mostly colour photographs.
Finally, I did find a few problems. Here are three of them:
(1) I mentioned that this book has colour photographs. These photographs are not mentioned in the main narrative. I'm saying this because one of these photographs contains the actual formula of physics I mentioned above. If you're reading the main narrative about this formula and are unaware of what the actual formula looks like, you may get frustrated. (I actually read a major review of this book where the reviewer was angry that he did not know what the actual formula looked like because he was unaware that it was with the colour photographs.)
The reader should be told when to refer to these colour photographs at the appropriate time in the main narrative.
(2) Turok tells us that in string theory, particles are "little quantum pieces of string." Strings of what? We're never told. (A "string" in string theory is actually an one-dimensional vibrating thread of energy.)
(3) Turok tells us that "I see the idea of a "multiverse"...representing a loss of confidence in the prospects for basic science." This is a strange statement. The idea of a multiverse has nothing to do with a "loss of confidence" but comes from the mathematics.
In conclusion, if you take anything away from this book, it should be:
"Scientific knowledge is our most precious possession, and our future will be shaped by the breakthroughs to come."
(first published 2012; author's note; 5 chapters; main narrative 255 pages; notes; further reading; permissions; acknowledgements; index; the CBC Massey lectures series)
<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>